By TIM HORAN
Keeping two facilities open, even though they are not showing a profit, was unanimously approved by the Memorial Health System Board at its regular meeting Tuesday.
The pool, located at America’s Best Inn, will continue to be supported by Impact Sports & Fitness for six-months on the condition that the pool budget is trimmed.
The board also approved keeping the Learn and Grow Depot open and will not be reviewing it again until June 2014.
Both were unanimous votes.
Costs of the pool went up significantly because of vandalism last year, thus the need to provide pool security and the cost for utilities, which the owner of the pool requires the fitness center to pay.
Members of Impact Sports & Fitness are allowed to use the pool and are provided a card key for entry.
But board members were frustrated because there was no way to pinpoint how many of the 404 fitness members used the pool.
“There is no way to get usage data,” Mark Miller, chief executive officer said. “I tried to come up with ideas. Well, someone could sit up there but how long do they sit up there? Usage changes with the seasons. It changes from Friday to Monday. We could put a more expensive card reader on the door; one that would allow us to take a count of how many times the card is swiped. The problem is that when a when a family comes in, six people can walk through the door. Sometimes there are groups of people and one of the problems we have is someone knocking on the door because they forgot their card key.”
He reminded the board members that when the pool was opened, dues were raised. It now costs about $31 a month for a single and about $52 for a family membership.
“We don’t know how many people use the pool,” said Chairman Kent Wyatt.
The subject of a price increase was brought up.
“We could price us out of the ball game,” said RaeLyn Swisher, fitness director.
She said that pool usage picks up during spring break, increases during the summer, but drops off in the winter.
“In the winter a lot of times they (security) will go up there and there will be nobody there,” she said. “It is hit and miss. There is just no norm. I know that morning and noon time are the busiest.”
Sondy Knitter, a regular user of the pool, said people that use the pool don’t use it for fun. They are using it because their doctors have ordered them to do pool therapy for one reason or another.
There are two weekly pool workout classes and several classes held throughout the week by the fitness members.
“Pools do not make money,” she told the board. “That’s a fact. It’s a community service. And I pray that none of you ever have an orthopedic surgeon tell you that you would benefit from using a pool. It’s not something you want to hear. I thank the board for providing it. It’s an awesome service.
“You have no pain when you walk in the water,” she said. “You get out of the water and all the pain comes back.”
“One of the main concerns is, the elephant in the room, is that we got hit up a month ago that for sure we were going to be losing $200,000 that we thought we were going to get because of our critical access hospital status,” said board member Dr. Frank Jordan. “So we are thinking about the future. We know we subsidize. We subsidize a lot of things for Abilene. The fitness center has operated as a negative for a long time but it is very, very important to the community.”
The board learned last month that the $85 billion federal spending cuts known as “sequestration” could have a $200,000-a-year effect on Memorial Health System.
“As a board, we are sitting here thinking we are subsidizing Learn and Grow. That’s another one. When we do pull the plug? What is the limit? I wish we really knew how many use that pool. It would be a little easier to qualify.”
“We represent a lot of people, the whole district, not just people in Abilene,” said board member Paul Schmitt. “When the word hospital is mention what is the first thing that comes to mind: wellness, taking care of patients. It isn’t a swimming pool.”
“There is a lot of emphasis about wellness before people get to the hospital,” said Millie Fink, board secretary. “I think that is something to keep in mind.”
Swisher offered the board a plan to cut back about $8,000 in expenses.
Schmitt made the motion to keep the pool open for six months, implementing those cost saving plans. Fink seconded that motion and it was approved unanimously.
Bob Brazil, chief operating officer, gave a report on Learn and Grow which was also showing a loss in the neighborhood of $50,000.
He said that staff turnover was costly and a key to expenses was the student-teacher ration.
He said that on Monday there were 47 students at the Depot. There are 78 students enrolled which represents 64 families. A third of those are employees of Memorial Health System.
“We are getting a handle on it (expenses),” Miller said. “We do not have a plan to break even.”
Dr. Jordan made the motion to keep the Learn and Grow Depot open and that the board review it again at the June 2014 meeting.